Ray School narrows search for new principal

By Hassan S. Ali

[img id=”80199″ align=”alignleft”] For the first time in 17 years, Hyde Park’s Ray Elementary School has found itself in the midst of a search for a new principal. Parents, school administrators, and members of the U of C community played their parts this week by attending informal question-and-answer sessions with three of the four potential candidates, part of an interview process that will yield a successor to outgoing principal Cydney Fields, who announced her retirement a year earlier than expected.

The open position at Ray Elementary, located at the corner of 57th Street and Kimbark Avenue, is one of the 115 vacancies created by outgoing principals this year throughout the Chicago Public Schools system.

The 115 vacancies constitute a sizable increase from last year’s 77 vacancies, according to Chicago Board of Education statistics reported in the Chicago Sun-Times last week. According to the Sun-Times report, the surge in vacancies is largely rooted in baby-boomer principals’ decisions to retire.

“I think we’ve got an attractive position,” said Michael Scott, a Ray Elementary School parent and president of the local school council (LSC), an 11-member group charged with interviewing potential candidates for the position. He said preparation for the selection process has been going on since November and has entailed the review of over 70 applications for the position.

In March, the LSC narrowed its list to four candidates: Mary Cavey, principal of LeMoyne Elementary on the north side; Beverly Greene, assistant principal of Irving Elementary on the far west side; Barbara Freely, assistant principal of Taylor Elementary on the southeast side; and Bernadette Butler, contract principal of Agassiz Elementary on the north side.

The search holds particular importance for the University community. The school provides work and volunteer opportunities for dozens of U of C students involved in the University’s Neighborhood Schools Program (NSP), the Students Teaching At Ray School (STARS), and Student Teachers registered student organizations. There are currently about 25 NSP students working at Ray Elementary, according to Duel Richardson, director of Neighborhood Relations and the NSP.

“It’s been one of our most productive, most engaging [sites] for our students,” said Richardson, who attended three of the four principal meetings. He added that the NSP has been working with Ray Elementary since 1976.

Richardson said that the principal selection process is “an important transition for any school,” but especially for Ray Elementary, because nearly 20 years have passed since it last hired a principal. “One of [the candidates] is going to be who we depend upon to give our students good, productive assignments,” Richardson said.

In their responses to parent questions about what they hope to bring to the school’s future, most of the candidates talked about building on Ray Elementary’s existing assets.

“What I would hope for is that Ray could move forward to the next level,” said Freely, at her community meeting on Thursday. “It seems to me that the formula is here in place,” she said, adding that the school boasts a strong foundation of parents and community members.

“What I’m looking to see continue…is [having] a leader who is very interested in partnerships, both with parents and with the community at large,” Richardson said. “For the past 30 years, that has characterized Ray School. Not every school has the good fortune of having a principal that is open to partnerships to benefit the students.”

Scott echoed Richardson’s sentiments regarding the school’s selection process.

“I think we have done an excellent job of respecting Ray’s persona, which is community involvement,” Scott said. “Because of that, we have done a good job of getting to these four [candidates].”

With the interviews now over, Scott said the LSC will vote on whether to extend an offer to one of the four candidates. Despite a May 15 deadline, he said he expects a decision “very likely” next week. In the event that no decision is made, the school would appoint an interim principal to serve until the next school year, when the interview process would be repeated.